Poetry

Poetry

The Sistine Chapel

On the scaffold twenty meters up
tracing her head in the damp plaster,
Michelangelo knows it’s going to take
more than a breath to make Adam drop
his can’t-be-bothered pose, too bored
to stand even at God’s charged arrival,
held aloft by a crew of hard-working cherubs
who struggle to maintain lift long enough
for contact to occur: a critical maneuver
of the right hand complicated by the added
weight of Eve on whom His left arm rests.
Drops of paint freckle his face as he wonders
how many priests will take offense
but concludes that only skin to skin will do.
Without it, Adam’s forever grounded.
God’s touch is first. Hers is next.



I'll always remember

I’ll always remember
the sweltering night in Missouri,
the pulsing din of the katydids,
the prairie grass stretching away
on the other side of the trees.
In the dark woods across the pond,
a lost calf bleats its anguish—
six times, then eight, then six again.
I sit at the camp table listening,
as so many nights before. In the tent,
sleeping, the boy, now thirteen,
the woman, after twenty-seven years.
Moths and greenbugs attack the lantern,
flapping crazily. Before I finish tonight
they will land in the halo
of the hot gas light, diligently
search out the lantern’s air vents
and incinerate themselves.
In the morning I will brush away
the fine white ash. This is not
a fitting metaphor
for any human aspiration.
The light we are seeking
is not the kind that destroys
those who seek it. True,
the bright burning gas
tempts us sometimes. I know, I know.
There are nights when we feel
that bad. I turn the valve of the lantern
to off and wait for my vision
to adjust to the darkness.
The almost inaudible
breathing from the tent
comforts me. I think of us
sitting on the shore
as the last sunlight seeped
from the sky, watching the boy
cast his fishing line
again and again
out into the pond, catching nothing
except happiness. The light
we are seeking catches all the world
in the shooting arc
of the outthrown line, never
to be lost, not bounded
by night, dangerous
only to death.



Urban renewal

It wasn’t where we wanted to live
but you have to put down roots to thrive.
Daily we bore the shock of forbearance—
our own and our neighbors’: the noise, the smell!
Be fruitful! We tried. Soil of lead arsenate,
cadmium. We added our detritus,
peel and core: redemption. And now
our mineral prison blooms in this,
the year of our departure: now at last
the berries fruit in blue abundance.
Which goes to show our acts are not our own;
what we make does not belong to us.
At best we fade softly as timothy,
and leave our harvest to the next people.



Learning by heart

The service will be over in ten minutes, but we’re stuck
saying the creed. It’s hot. Our voices
run together, muddled, a swampy stream.
We stick at the sibilants, slogging through, plodding on.

No clarity, except for when we all pause
for the same breath, suck up all the air
in the room, and use it to shape these worn-out words
so many have already spent breath saying.
                                       I believe—

—who was conceived by the Virgin married, I say, a slip
I hope no one heard, but then a man behind me
falters, mumbles something about light (that isn’t in this one)

and I recall saying the Nicene Creed standing
beside one of my college professors
who quietly called the Holy Spirit “She”—

—She has spoken to us through the prophets, I tried saying
once, but then all day, I couldn’t stop thinking about
Her, deep in those quiet conversations, handing over words

to be handed down, the ones we should have
learned by heart by now. How disappointed she must be
we still slip after all this time?

We’re walking along the rickety edge of Babel

trying to learn by heart, without reading,
trying to walk by faith, still slipping.

















Parable

Maker of galaxies, at latest count
Billions! And who can say that our Big Bang
Was not preceded, from your primal fount
By other billions, while the angels sang?
Then shall we take the word of a great Jew,
That one child is more precious in your sight
Than all the rocks in all the worlds you view,
And loyal anima is your delight?
Maker of galaxies, how then weigh out
A small Iraqi eye, terror-suffused,
Against the marvels you have brought about,
Why are your little children so abused?
“Not bread, not miracles, not use of power,”
So your Son said. We must await your hour.